Problems with One’s Nose: It Just Doesn’t Make Scents

I think we can all agree—that whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not—having Covid is no fun.

I can’t think of any illness that would actually fit into the “fun” category, so perhaps the above statement is a bit of a no-brainer declaration.

Still … there is an aspect of this affliction that is forcing me to do something I do find to be pleasurable—research­­—as I (along with millions of other humans) are desperate to determine when, if ever, our sense of smell will return to our bodies.

The symptoms of SARS-CoV–2 are dizzying, to be sure—one of them including experiencing dizziness. That evidentiary concurrence aside, other symptoms include the typical sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can’t rest for lack of medicine annoyances. Some of these ailments arising to the level of not just vexing irritations but life-threatening pathologies.

The non-life-threatening, but definitely life-depressing disorder of anosmia—or smell blindness—is a fairly reliable indicator for the Average Joe lacking an at home Covid test to determine if they have been infected with this miserable and unrelenting virus. As an individual whose job relies upon her sense of smell, I long ago created a list of all maladies of the disease that I knew might reliably express themselves and highlighted in yellow and then orange and then pink the one that I absolutely, under no circumstances could tolerate. And then promptly began agonizing over its possible appearance until, I’m guessing, my brain finally took to heart all those self-help, yogi meditations I spent years fostering and “manifested” my thoughts into intentions.

Here you go. You think it, you become it.

The loss of smell for most people is dispiriting—especially if you’re a human who likes to eat.

The loss of smell for a person who is surrounded by hundreds of small alcoholic vials filled with aromatic compounds that are no longer aromatic is panic-inducing, terrorizing, and humbling in a collapse into a puddling heap on the floor type of way.

What now? Is the question of the day, although it really wasn’t a daily query as much as it became an hourly one.

So much of my life’s work is dedicated to identifying odorants—the good the bad and the ugly. They’re all incredibly fascinating to me and important to the labors I’ve been employed to pursue. I have never taken my ability to smell for granted—in fact, I’ve protected its presence and fostered my olfactory skills like a zealot chasing after the title of “Olympic medalist” in that category.

I walk into a room and the first things I notice are the odorants—the primary, the secondary, the tertiary. Has someone burnt toast? Has a dog passed gas? Is that woman wearing the same scarf from yesterday when she slipped outside into the alley to have a quick cigarette?

I walk into a patch of someone else’s presence and can oftentimes flesh out a rhinal history. The cologne they wear, the detergent they use, the curry they ate. It’s a Sherlockian mystery that unfolds itself one odorant at a time.

And now it’s gone. Poof.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I noticed a side-effect to a new medication I’m on which revealed that I may experience hyperosmia—an increased sensitivity to odorants. Hot diggity, I thought. A dream come true, right? Until I’d been stuck in a car with a person who, whenever speaking, gave off the exhalating perfume of someone who had perhaps dined on the soup made from the sewer on a hot August day. It wasn’t their fault. Their stomach was appropriately breaking down breakfast with the human chemicals assigned to that job—it’s just that it felt like I was in that organ with them.

Being on the opposite ends of the scent spectrum in such a short period of time provides—along with a bit of whiplash—an opportunity to experience the edges, to assess this bodily sense with the effect of a volume dial. Too much and you whirl with nausea, too little and life becomes monochrome—a dull gray, monotony that snatches away all color, absconds with your anticipation, and tosses you into a steeply descending pit of “why bother?” (Or, at least, for me it did.)

I have a phrase—a formula—I use to describe a concept when teaching on developing the skills of nosing and tasting: scent + taste = flavor.

Scent involves our olfactory epithelium—a small patch of tissue high in the nasal cavity that houses around 400 of our body’s olfactory receptors. When aroma molecules attach themselves to the receptors—either singularly or in combination with others—we can identify somewhere between 100 million to 1 trillion different odorants.

Taste is defining sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami compounds.

Putting the two together is how we experience flavor. Strip one away and the pow and wow factor of food is crippled. Hamstring both and you’re left with … what??

If I allow my freaked out, blubbering inner doomsayer to answer that question, it would be search for a cliff tall enough to leap from. If I am to respond more appropriately, more hopefully, more like an individual who gravitates toward solid science than pointless hysteria, I would say, a not unsubstantial amount.

I am forced to hunt for the other. To seek out what else contributes to the sensory experience of flavor, as there are a few more things than one might expect to include.

  1. Viscosity – a measure of thickness, glossiness, syrupiness, adhesion.
  2. Chemesthesis – this occurs when the receptors on the skin react with a chemical placed upon them—where your mouth and nose are concerned, we have the examples of:
    • Menthol (a cooling sensation—your toothpaste, gum, or minty herbs)
    • Capsaicin (a thermal impression—your hot sauce, spicy peppers, or chili powders)
    • Carbonation (a tingling of the receptors—think soda, sparkling water, fizzy champagne)
    • Alcohol (a prickling phenomenon—might as well go for the gold and make it high proof)
  3. Sounds – the oral and sonic experience that comes from the crunch of your sugar snap peas, the squeak of your cheese curds, the crackle of your potato chips, the smacking stickiness of your peanut butter, the effervescence of those Pop Rocks.
  4. Temperature – No need to explain, you know the scale.
  5. Mindfulness—It has been studied and believed that “expectation” contributes to flavor as well, as scent and taste stimulate the limbic system and ultimately stir up memories.

I cling to the fact that the nuances of what contributes to flavor is fairly rich with examples. And paying particular attention to the extra sensory “we’ve always been here, but you’ve just ignored us” elements highlights their contribution to an experience rich with stimuli.

Is it the same?

Nope. Not even close. For me, anyway.

Will it suffice?

It will have to. At least until biology rights itself, a stem cell transplant program is offered up by my GP, or Mark Zuckerberg finds a way to “meta” my olfactory receptors back into reality. But for now, I will sniff, sip, slurp, and swirl everything I find—to invite back into my brain, to welcome back into my realm, to appreciate with renewed vigor the one thing my mental health hinges upon.

Until all returns, I will remain annoyingly and worrisomely … scent-o-mental.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

How to Keep a Bridge Quiet When in the Car

There is nothing like writing a book to illuminate just how awful a communicator you are.

I think everyone should do it. Not only for the (eventual) resounding joy of completing such an accomplishment, but also to recalibrate your ego—bring it down to a more palatable level.

Like bug height.

And it’s only at such a degree that you will see the crucial minutia—the details, the complexities, the nuances that exist beneath the large umbrella encompassing the process of conveying information. Yes, the granular level is critical; the grammar that contains all the basic linguistic units that make up our parts of speech, but there is so much more than the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in each sentence.

Of course, to see that “so much more” collection, one must pull back the lens to include a big, broad perspective. One must don the panoramic glasses of an omniscient deity, let’s say, providing you the opportunity to view your work from every angle and from great heights.

I’m not so sure I’ve ever met a human who embodies the ability to do all of the above, for if you ever have the chance to experience publishing a book in a traditional manner, you begin to see that there should be countless names given credit as author, and not just one boldly inked above the title.

Let me explain. I think writing a book is a metaphor for factory work. Rarely, do we find one person who wears every hat. Creating something—for instance, a widget—typically requires an interconnected tapestry of relationships. Even if you hang your own shingle stating you’re a one-man band baker, it’s doubtful you’re also the grain farmer, the mill grinder, and the manufacturer of the oven, right?

The last box I tick off on the completion list of “book writing” is to craft an acknowledgement page. Over the years, I have learned to keep a checklist, as there is nothing more worrisome than coming to that moment when this write-up is due, and you’re wracking your brain for Who else? Who else? Oh fudge, there are surely more!

There are. I’m not kidding when I state that I would like to include some grade school English teachers who taught me the basics, and also highlight others whom I hold at fault for not drilling more into my brain. I suppose one could lasso in any individual who aided you whilst learning language, but it’s mostly considered a slight not to include one’s parents, so we’re mostly covered there.

The factory work of book writing is where we could state that our earliest teachers are the manufacturers of the raw ingredients. They provide the schooling that leads to the recognition of a collection of sounds, which are assigned to various letters. Placed together and in dictated order, they form a syntactic unit.

I see myself as the widget maker—utilizing all those syntactic units. Once possessed of all those units—or words—I churn them out and pray they have a functional purpose. Whether to educate or entertain, the person who soon purchases those words will, optimistically speaking, find them worth the expense.

That widget is then inspected by upper management for design flaws, operational errors, and defects of any nature. Upper management includes editors, proofreaders, and interior designers. The widget gets sent back to the production room floor a lot. A LOT.

Then that widget is enrobed in fashionable, eye-catchy wrapping. Photographers, graphic artists, models, and designers first all huddle in some stylish conference room and bemoan the fact that it will be near impossible to convey the “idea” of the widget, unless upper management can make the “idea” a better one. Upper management sends the widget back to the production room floor.

The floor operator (that’s me) has no one to complain to, as she is not unionized and really just hopes for a paycheck and therefore, straps on her elfin cap once more and gets to work.

Eventually, either the widget is acceptable to upper management and the creatives, or someone shoves it through inspection as they can’t stand to look at it one second longer.

The larger point is that we’re all involved in trying to communicate something to others. Something we feel is worth the slight distraction from whatever other activity those others may be engrossed in.

Us: “HEY!” (Now, someone holds up the widget)

Others: “Huh?” … “Oh, I get it.”

Us: “Our work is done.”

But getting to the “done” part is arduous—and, oftentimes, sadly unsuccessful.

Communicating is hard. Telling people what you think, how you feel, what you see and believe should not be that difficult with all the tools at our disposal, and yet, because of inflection or syntax, those threads are open to interpretation.

Every proofreader (but mostly those having worked on my books) will tell you that we give meaning and emphasis to words and phrases where we absolutely shouldn’t. I am at an Olympian level when it comes to misplaced modifiers.

Example: Being a lover of bridges, this one was gorgeously swoopy.

There. I just made a bridge a lover of bridges. (facepalm)

Back to the larger, larger point—I trust my readers to know what I mean, not what I say. And I ask them for forgiveness and also not to laugh at the parts that I did not intend to be hilarious, like making bridges anthropomorphic.

I think, as humans, we all have ample experiences to point to where we’re finding dialogue, and communication writ large, to be more challenging than ever. Whether attempting to pair the perfect emoji to replace words (often fails), sifting through media opinions hiding as facts (often succeeds), or trying to decipher what code level color the CDC has stamped as today’s mask needs (usually epic blunders), time is an important element one must employ on both ends for success.

Well, maybe time to communicate, time to interpret, and time for a stiff drink if we manage to botch up the babel.

I stand by my suggestion that everyone gives it a shot though—a shot at writing a book. It will flood you with a sense of thoughtfulness as you spend countless months and years attempting to craft content that will be unforgettable. It will highlight the value of cooperation as the team of factory workers by your side pour their souls into attempting to re-craft your content so that it will be readable, enjoyable, and all errors will be “forgettable.” And lastly, it will provide you with an opportunity to say something without being interrupted—as this always happens to me whenever I’m in a car with a bridge and they just blurt out their enthusiasm for overpass architecture.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Not So Fit as a Fiddle, but Still Music to My Ears

This year for the holidays, I received a beautiful gift: a bow.

Not a knot tied with two loops and two loose ends to adorn my hair or embellish a box.

Not a weapon from which I would launch arrows to fend off foes or hunt whilst hungry.

Instead, it was a wooden rod, curved and carved, attached to horsehair, and meant to fill a room with sound once drawn across a set of strings.

I’ve been missing the bow to my violin for years.

I’m fairly certain it left of its own accord, for my skills as a violinist are thus that once revealed, fill any listener with more desire to have me cease, than the encouragement they first offered to have me begin.

I have been surrounded by musicians my whole life. It is not difficult to assess who was capable and who was simply fulfilling the chore affixed to their daily schedule by a parent who insisted that if they wished to see the dawn of the next day, they would accomplish the tasks assigned to them on the present one.

I wasn’t fond of practicing the violin, and I don’t really know what would have happened had I refused to play it. Or if I would purposefully create sound that would have others beseeching I never do so again. I was a rule follower. And more than a modicum of effort was expected to produce results.

I reached the great height of mediocrity and would still to this day firmly quibble with Elfriede Jelinek who stated that The middling level has no terrors, no anxieties. For no matter where I went—and at that time, I was going from stage to stage—I found I was hired on because “yes, you can sing,” but also “we need a violinist too.” Therefore, I was thrust into the limelight where others now shined a blistering focus on those lackluster skills. Terrors and anxieties accompanied me as if we were tethered triplets.

Once departing that domain and birthing two small humans who grew to the level of trust where they could hold an instrument and not simply utilize it as teething relief, I quickly, and astonishingly, discovered what true aptitude looked like. Smart enough to engage industrious tutors, and youthful enough to recall tutorial methods that did not resonate with me, the blueprint to build two true musicians began to take shape. The foundation of this construct required one element I insisted be present, lest the whole edifice collapse: joy.

I think most of us realize that to achieve any measure of competency, it will involve some elbow grease, and therefore, joy can be muffled when engaged in employing said grease. Muffled does not mean silenced. No pillow may be engaged in asphyxiating the necessary joy essential to furthering one’s abilities—no matter how downy soft it may be. Many would agree the joy emerges strengthened and intensified, but usually after great effortful endeavors. Learning that pattern is what’s most difficult.

Now although my skills did not improve greatly as I worked and learned alongside my children, my joy associated with my violin did. I think it was due to living vicariously through many of their advancements. Hearing someone tackle increasingly difficult passages and produce mellifluous sound was phenomenal not simply to experience firsthand, but also to feel the jubilant skipping of my own genes expressing the thrill of a job well done. I would never take credit for my offspring’s’ capabilities, but I take a small amount of satisfaction knowing I did not fully dampen them to the point of being mute.

Today, the two of them are magnificently masterful with their art, and I remain astonished at the heights they’ve achieved.

I also remain tethered to my own averageness and would love to shift the blame onto something as absurd as my personal fear of heights. Some ladders are not meant to be climbed, although I find myself at least brave enough to perch a few rungs above dirt level.

And the view from this spot, although not panoramic, feels purposeful enough to elevate the worthiness of my efforts—the energy put forth to revive latent skills for no one else’s benefit but mine, where a small bloom of satisfaction unfolds as ancient filaments of melodic line burble up to the surface from ink to brain and instrument to air. The fact that they stitched themselves to some part of my essence and found hush-hush housing, emerging when called–albeit dusty and brittle, does not dampen my pursuits. In fact, those efforts are made more profound because someone I love gave me the means to express myself. And although I wish that that which is expressed from those four tightly drawn strands sounded less strained than the method one envisions it required to create the catgut strings, there is still joy.

Joy that someone gave me the gift.

Joy that someone still absurdly believes I have the wherewithal to make use of the gift.

And the joy that on any given day I can simply announce, I am not going to practice today, so there.

From where I stand on the ladder’s rungs of talent, I’d have to say that’s a gift in and of itself and should be wrapped up in a bow.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

January 25th marked the birth of Robert Burns. The Ploughman Poet. The Bard of Ayrshire. Scotland’s favorite son. Sadly, most people only admit knowledge of the catchy tune he penned that they drunkenly mumble along to come New Year’s Eve at midnight: Auld Lang Syne.

He wrote poems and lyrics, collected and improved folk songs and fathered as many children with as many women who would have him. No wonder so many people claim him as their ancestor. The guy was a rogue—and a quick one too. He died at the age of thirty seven, making a remarkable attempt to populate half of Scotland.

Regardless, numerous individuals, whether of Scottish decent, whisky aficionados, or enthusiasts of poetry, annually plan to commemorate this man’s existence and accomplishments (both bardic and bedroom) with an evening of debauchery and boredom.

Scotish dirk

The whisky I love, but somewhere during the third hour of monotonic homemade poetry, I’m looking for anything I can surreptitiously light on fire so we can all leave the building. Consequently, I appreciate the whisky with more enthusiasm than I probably should. Of course, this is what everyone else is doing and why they believe they’re channeling Laurence Olivier.

A typical Burns Night, or Burns Supper, as it is both commonly known, used to be (and I’m sure remains in some stuffy circles) a “boys only” getup held on the anniversary of Rabbie’s birth (or in many cases the Saturday night closest to it, as no one is getting up for work when the sun rises next). Gathering that Burns himself likely preferred the company of women and wouldn’t have missed the chance to gaze upon the legs of a lovely lassie, a few welcome mats have been placed at the feet of the fairer sex. It seems to have spiced up the evening for many a current soirée and is gaining popularity, as more women begin to view whisky as something more pleasurable than a root canal.

The supper components make or break any Burns celebration. Sadly, I have attended too many events where I’ve found countless guests sleeping with their eyes open at the table, making frequent lavatory trips, or curled up in a fetal position in the cloak room, arms cradling a depleted Lagavulin bottle.

Assembling your own Burns supper should not be undertaken lightly; get it wrong and you will find attendees plotting your grisly death and funeral. One must consider the key factors needed: the proper guests, the right food, the liquor, and the entertainment.

The guest list is key to success. Have a gathering of bashful introverts or pontifical windbags and your evening feels like watching the “next up for service” numbers at the DMV slowly tick by would be a treat. Be sure to invite a thespian or two and maybe throw in a fire eater or sword swallower in case the evening plummets.

If you find the menu is reminiscent of something even Fido would shake his head at, do not blame it on the Scots. Just because folklore wishes us to believe all Highlanders were once scrap cloth clad savages does not mean they couldn’t wield a torch with just enough finesse in order to perfectly caramelize the tops of their Crème Brule.

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

The main course, haggis, (aka sheep pluck), is a dish whose preparation and success requires deft skill in the kitchen. Try to find a large animal vet who moonlights as a Michelin rated chef to construct yours. Avoid the kind sold in a tin can.

The liquor is straightforward. Buy booze people will drink. Scotch is the typical liquid in hand, but feel free to branch out with any of the globe’s magnificent whiskies.

When it comes to entertainment, people are coming for the piper. Don’t believe all the old bagpiper slights like If you took all the bagpipers in the world and laid them end to end…it would be a good idea, as all you need do is watch the faces of people as they stand wholly stunned by the power and potency of a piper bellowing out a tune. But also look behind them because this is typically when warring Scots of past would sneak up behind their enemies and practice a few solid broadsword techniques.

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

I have attended other peoples’ Burns Supper and I have thrown a couple of my own. Let me be honest. It is much easier to have a “babysitting emergency” in the midst of someone else’s grand Gaelic failure than in your own living room, among fifty hungry guests, who can clearly see your children alive and well, and currently working as unpaid wait staff.

My suggestions for you? Start small.

Gather your children, your parents, your partner or spouse—anyone you trust not to post damning TikToks about you the next day, and ask them to come to dinner prepared to recite a short poem, quote, or best yet, a bawdy limerick.

Check out a couple of the easier recipes offered by the BBC (click here).

Then head on over to the nearest (and reputable) liquor store and purchase yourself a good bottle of uisge bathea. Do not skimp and buy something that can double as mouthwash or battlefield disinfectant. If you’re new to whisky, look for a spirit that isn’t heavy with peat or smoke.

Finally, toast with abandonment. The more frequently you do, the quicker everyone becomes pithy, handsome, and hungry enough to eat sheep pluck.

Slàinte!

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

And I think it’s more than the tingles I get from simply saying the word—a word that envelops me with a warmth containing decades of memories, all twinkling and glittered. I think it’s the hearing of all things December related.

December has a sound all its own.

For me, and where I live on this patch of earth, it is the sound of swirling snowflakes, cotton soft and cushioning. It’s a muffling of the natural world, a bright white quilt under a blue-white moon.

It’s the sound of wind chimes chinkling, nudged by invisible fingers of a frost-laden wind.

It’s the whistle of winter’s breath as it races down the chimney shafts and rushes through the empty halls, a purring, fluid melody, so measured and hypnotic. Suddenly, it inhales and pulls all open doorways shut with slaps of sound that startle, breaking soothing silence.

I hear the somber trees, brooding and contemplative. Rhythmic and slow, their drinking of the earth and drawing in the air allow them time for mindful reflection, and their meticulous planning of a spring that slowly creeps closer day by day.

And I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

I warm at the thrum of mellifluous song, the trilling of carols, the honeyed blend of bright, buoyant voices. Whether it be the refrains of jubilant noise thrust toward the heavens of a brilliant starry night, or one single, hallowed melody, hummed quietly and kept in check, music seeps out into the air, whimsical, innocent and heady.

This month is filled with the sounds of gratitude: the contented sighs slipping from souls who witness December’s darkness replaced with tiny, twinkling lights, the bright-eyed, gleeful shrieks from innocent mouths who point at storied characters come to implausible and colorful life, and the cheerful hail of reception that fills front halls, front porches, and the faces of those behind front desks.

It is abundant with the thanks for a warm cup of tea, a filling cup of soup, a coat, some shoes, a toy, a bed.

It is filled with a million wishes on the same bright stars, overflowing with countless dreams whispered deep beneath the covers, scratched in a letter to Santa, chanted in prayer over candlelight.

I hear the sound of sharp blades on ice, waxed sleds on snow, snowballs on parkas.

There is the noise of muffled feet on carpeted risers, the hum of a pitch pipe, a sharp intake of breath, and the strains of melody and harmony and dissonance braided throughout the next many minutes that make the hair across your arms quiver above goose flesh even though you are in an overheated room, squished into an undersized chair.

Throughout the month there is the crunch of dry leaves, the cracking of gunshots and the grunt of effort when dragging home that which will fill the freezer. I hear the soothsaying of snow, the delightful patter of euphoric feet, and the collective groan from a city full of scraping shovels.

The sounds of December are those of rustling coats and the stomping of boots, the rubbing of hands against the numbing, wintery sting. They are the hushed prayers of voices in holy vigil, the retelling of sacred stories to fresh ears and hungry souls.

The sounds I hear are those of glasses, clinking all in toasts. They are the wishes of warmth and the hope of fellowship, the thirst for triumph and the promise of change.

But most of all, I hear the plaintive yearning of my heart, voicing the wish that December won’t end, that January won’t come, and that time will stand still.

December is a month of sounds that sounds so good to me.

~Shelley

Lastly, I leave you with a small gift from me to you. I sing Norah Jones’ song ‘December.’ A tune I feel is my holiday hug to the world.

(And a huge hug of thanks to my wonderfully gifted son for mixing and production.)